Because of Donald Trump, U.N. ‘Won’t Be Important’ for Four Years, UAE’s U.S. Envoy Says in Leaked Email

Yousef Al Otaiba, United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the United States
Yousef Al Otaiba, United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the United States, attends the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, on July 6, 2016. A hacker group has been releasing the ambassador's emails in an apparent bid to discredit the United Arab Emirates. Drew Angerer/Getty

The United Arab Emirates ambassador in Washington told the country's United Nations ambassador that the global body “won’t be very important for the next four years”—an apparent reference to the election of President Donald Trump, according to a hacked January email exchange released to Newsweek.

The exchange with Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE’s ambassador to the U.N., will fuel rights groups' concerns that the president’s “America First” doctrine is eroding support for the United Nations and allowing Middle East allies to forfeit accountability at the global level, at least in the short term.

In an email dated January 19, Nusseibeh sends her analysis of the Senate confirmation of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley to a slew of top Emirati government officials, including Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Anwar Gargash, UAE state minister for foreign affairs. But she did not include Yousef Al Otaiba, the sheikdom’s envoy to Washington, and promptly forwarded it to him with the message, “just realized forgot to copy the most important person!”

He replied, “No worries. The U.N. won’t be very important for the next 4 years,” alongside a smiley face emoji.

Nusseibeh responded, also with a smiley face: “so I can relax while you work over-hard?”

The use of emojis suggests the exchange were delivered in a lighthearted manner. However, Otaiba and Nusseibeh had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication. 

Otaiba's private views on Trump have been widely reported. Leaked emails published by HuffPost in June showed that the ambassador had previously slammed Trump to officials in the Obama administration last year. On November 9, the night of the presidential election in which Trump defeated Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, Otaiba wrote to Rob Malley, Obama's top Middle East adviser: “This isn’t funny. How/why is this happening?? On what planet can trump be a president??”

Regarding the latest Otaiba emails, the State Department said in a statement that it "does not comment on allegedly leaked documents." The office of the spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary General said in an email statement: "We will not comment on what appears to be leaked personal emails of diplomats. The United Arab Emirates is and remains an important interlocutor for the United Nations on a number of regional and global issues."

"It's not the first time that people have dismissed the U.N. as irrelevant," a senior U.N. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said by phone. "Yet we remain key and critical to global multilateral diplomacy, as seen this weekend with the Security Council vote on North Korea."

An anonymous hacker group calling itself Global Leaks sent the exchange to Newsweek in an email registered to a .ru domain, located in Russia. The group has been leaking private emails of Emirati government officials, especially Yousef Al Otaiba, to Western media outlets in an apparent bid to discredit the UAE, as its crisis with Qatar continues.

On July 31, the hacker group released emails from 2011 showing that UAE officials had lobbied the Obama administration to allow it, instead of Qatar, to host an embassy for the Taliban in Abu Dhabi.

Doha, the capital of Qatar, was chosen to host it, and the issue has been one of the main criticisms of the Gulf state by the UAE and its Sunni allies; both countries cut diplomatic and transport ties to the country in early June, over alleged support of extremist groups. Qatar denies that it supports extremist groups and says it hosts the Taliban and Palestinian militant group Hamas only to promote dialogue.

The crisis pits the UAE and Qatar, two U.S. allies, against each other, and puts Washington in the middle. U.S. officials say the root of the crisis—the alleged hack of Qatar’s state news agency—came from the UAE, according to a Washington Post report, claims the UAE denies.

‘America First’

The United Nations has not been a priority for the Trump administration. The president wants to cut funding to the body’s humanitarian and peacekeeping missions, something Amnesty International called a sign of the administration’s "general contempt for human rights in the region and internationally."

Deals with Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have led to criticism from rights groups that Trump is sending a message to Middle Eastern allies accused of rights violations that if they do business with Washington, human rights will become secondary in concern. Trump and his team have said they believe tackling human rights issues privately has greater success than public criticism, pointing to the release of Egyptian-American aid worker Aya Hijazi in April as evidence of this policy’s success.

Where Trump may have stepped back on human rights, he has stepped forward on counterterrorism. He made Riyadh the first stop of his premier international tour as president, calling on a summit of Muslim leaders to step up their efforts against radical elements in the region.

But the latest hack shows a key U.S. Middle East ally suggesting that the U.S. will not take the lead on human rights at the U.N., where the U.S. shares a Security Council seat with Britain, France, China and Russia.

The UAE is one of the more liberal Gulf nations, where expats outnumber Emiratis, but migrant rights and social media censorship at home have caused concern for rights groups. Abroad, the UAE’s involvement in the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen to beat back Iranian-supported Shiite Houthi rebels has included accounts of civilian deaths caused in airstrikes designed to prop up the Sunni government in the civil war that began in March 2015, as well as allegations of torture at secret UAE-run prisons. The Emirati government denies the reports.

UAE strikes in Yemen A Yemeni man walks past damaged buildings following an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition in Sanaa on September 5, 2015. The UAE bombarded Yemeni rebels with airstrikes as it mourned 45 soldiers, among 50 killed in the deadliest day yet for a Saudi-led coalition fighting the insurgents. Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty

The UAE says it is fighting extremism in the country, and Trump’s Defense Secretary James Mattis has called the country “Little Sparta” for its contribution to tackling Al-Qaeda’s most dangerous arm, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, in Yemen.

The UAE has sought to portray the campaign as a necessary and just operation, according to private emails among Emirati officials seen by Newsweek, including one July 2015 email in which Otaiba wrote that the country is “losing the moral high ground fast.” This has remained the case almost two years later.

Other emails, many from public affairs professionals working for Otaiba and the UAE government, show extensive attempts to shape the communications coming out of Abu Dhabi and reporting on the civil war in Yemen. Despite international opinion not being on their side, it appears the Trump team is.

Washington considers the battle against Al-Qaeda in the country to be a national security priority, evidenced by Trump’s first foreign raid ordered in the country. He directed special forces to take out a senior AQAP leader in Yemen, an operation ultimately deemed a failure, as it led to the death of a U.S. soldier and at least 25 civilians, and did not kill or capture the leader in question.

The Pentagon revealed on Friday that a small number of troops was on the ground in Yemen to help an operation to oust AQAP militants from an area of central Yemen. They are working alongside UAE forces in the operation in Shabwa Governorate. The U.S. military is also conducting a drone-strike campaign against AQAP militants in the country.